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Immigration Authorities Arrest Dreamer Despite Lawyers' Reassurance


Immigration authorities arrested 22-year-old Daniela Vargas in Jackson, Miss., this week. Her story raises questions about how the Trump administration is carrying out its immigration policies. Vargas came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 7 years old. Her family overstayed their tourist visas and made a life in the U.S. She spoke out at a rally this week, talking about her parents' work in poultry plants.


DANIELA VARGAS: Knowing that they were making the sacrifice for us, I put in all my efforts into my education and my talents. I dream of being a university math professor. But now, I'm not so sure my dream will continue to develop.

SHAPIRO: Officers took Vargas into custody after she left that event. This story is getting national attention because Vargas is one of the roughly 750,000 people who received protection from deportation under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Her DACA status lapsed late last year. And she just recently reapplied. Joining us now is Vargas' lawyer, Abigail Peterson. Welcome to the program.

ABIGAIL PETERSON: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: What reason have authorities given for detaining your client?

PETERSON: The stated reason is that because she's a visa waiver overstay and because her DACA has lapsed, even though it's pending, it has not yet been approved. Those are the only reasons given at this point.

SHAPIRO: Given that her status had expired, is this detention something that might also have happened during the Obama administration?

PETERSON: No. No. If it had ever happened, I've never heard of it. And I really would not have thought that it would be something happening under the Trump administration, honestly, given everything that has been put out there in writing and in speeches. If the purpose of the law is to protect people and give them a chance to stay in a country where they grew up and where they're contributing to society and where they're committing no crimes, then it shouldn't matter if it's been technically approved or is in the process of being approved. And if it takes a few extra months of processing to do so, then that process should be allowed to go all the way through.

SHAPIRO: How does this change the advice that you are giving other clients who may be eligible for DACA status?

PETERSON: It changes the way we advise our DACA clients, as well as our other clients significantly. You know, we work in this enough to have an idea of what we can expect from ICE and from chief counsel's office and from USCIS to a degree so that we can cooperate with them in presenting the best cases, knowing what might be a problem and what might not be a problem. But this just puts a question mark at the end of every conclusion we would normally draw. It makes us particularly cautious moving forward filing not just DACA renewals or initial DACA filings but really any application with USCIS for someone whose status currently might be questionable.

SHAPIRO: There have been conflicting statements from this administration. But one thing that has been said is that ICE will prioritize immigrants who have committed crimes for deportation.


SHAPIRO: Do you conclude from what happened to your client that this administration now considers the very act of being in this country illegally a crime that merits deportation?

PETERSON: Well, I would certainly hope not. And from the public statements, no. But from this action, I think what they're saying is everything's fair game. We might not be saying that this is a crime that we have any interest in deporting, but we're not ruling anything out.

SHAPIRO: The IRS audits people seemingly randomly to sort of put everyone on notice that it could be you, so keep an eye out. Could the same thing be happening with immigration enforcement?

PETERSON: Yeah. I think that that's possible. I think it keeps everyone on their toes and everyone guessing and puts a fear in people that maybe the administration is trying to put a fear - and, you know, make people miserable enough so that they self-deport. If that's what we're going after, then sure, I guess they're being effective in that. But hopefully that's not what we're going for because it's a terrible image to be putting out there.

SHAPIRO: Abigail Peterson is an immigration attorney representing Daniela Vargas, a former DACA recipient who is now in immigration detention. Thank you for joining us.

PETERSON: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And Peterson says Daniela Vargas' DACA renewal is still pending. And she expects it to be approved unless Vargas is deported. In a statement about this case, an agency spokesperson said ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.